OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder is something we're all familiar with. Or at least, that's what we think. Movies, TV shows, and books have given us a picture of someone obsessed with being organized and passionate about cleaning. Some portrayals show individuals needing to check a lock five times, wash your hands two or three times, or close the lights more than once before they can leave the house or go to bed. But is that really OCD?
As we've already mentioned, OCD is short for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It is an anxiety disorder wherein the person gets caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. OCD can affect people of all ages, races, and stations in life. And there are many types of OCD.
Before we get into OCD symptoms and such, let's first be clear on what obsessions and compulsions are. Everyone has obsessions. It's not an uncommon word for people to say. You can be quite "obsessed" with the new app you installed in your iPhone or that new Taylor Swift song you heard the other day. However, your obsession doesn't interfere with your day-to-day living. You can "move on" from that obsession, able to meet up with friends, go to work, and all other aspects of daily living. An individual with OCD, on the other hand, struggles with their obsessive thoughts which trigger their anxiety. This, in turn, gets in the way of their day-to-day living. These unwanted thoughts can only be relieved through compulsions.
Compulsions are repetitive actions or rituals that an OCD individual is driven to perform in order to drive away the obsession. These compulsions provide only a temporary relief from the obsessive thoughts. These actions are often time-consuming and prevent them from day-to-day functioning. Now, it's quite normal for a person to feel "compelled" to have his/her things neatly arranged. But that doesn't mean that they have OCD. It may be that this individual just prefers things in order. For most individuals with OCD, their compulsive behavior is not something they want to do. In fact, they'd rather not do it, but they require it in order to reduce their anxiety and escape from their obsessions.
We are all probably guilty of thinking that OCD was a cleaning disorder. But that's not what this type of OCD actually is. A person with Contamination OCD has a fear of dirt and infection, worrying that these would cause him or loved ones harm. In order to ease the anxiety over this, the individual feels compelled to wash parts of his/her body excessively (i.e. excessive hand washing, showering, toothbrushing). He or she may also manifest a bit of OCD cleaning such as wiping down household items excessively. The use of high-level disinfectant wipes to keep everything clean is not uncommon.
People with this type of OCD feel the need to keep checking things because they have an obsessive fear of someone getting harmed if they do not do so. These may include checking doors and windows, water faucets, alarms, car doors, etc.
The compulsion here is to have everything lined up just "right" because the fear is that a lack of symmetry may cause discomfort or cause harm. Some examples of OCD symptoms include excessive neatness, aligning all pictures, all canned food items facing the same way, and books lined up perfectly.
#1: Don't avoid your fears.
Avoiding your fears can cause you to fear them more which can trigger even more obsessive thoughts. Instead, it is often recommended that you expose yourself to your triggers and try to delay performing the compulsive behavior. If you do end up performing your ritual, try to limit the amount of time you spend on it. The idea is that if you expose yourself to your fear, the less the anxiety it will cause over time which will give you more control.
#2: Challenge your obsessive thoughts.
Everyone gets worried. No one is immune to troubling thoughts. The problem is, with OCD, you get stuck on that particular worry, keeping it at the forefront of your mind. To help you move past it, you can try writing down your obsessive thoughts. Keeping yourself occupied with writing the thoughts may help distract you from your OCD urges. It will also emphasize how repetitive your obsessions are and cause them to lose power over you.
#3: Create an OCD worry period.
Instead of trying to escape your obsessive thoughts, schedule a time that can be devoted to obsessing. This helps you develop a habit of putting off your obsessions and compulsions to a specific time, letting you follow a normal routine and enabling you to become obsession and compulsion-free for the rest of the day.
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